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Is Wearable Health Tech Just A Fashion Statement?

If you were at Glendale Tech Week, you probably heard a lot about Urgent 9 founder Dr. Manuel Momjian’s presentation on technology and the future of healthcare. It was a fitting topic, because there is no doubt among those in the healthcare field that the industry is undergoing a tech-centric revolution.

On the consumer side of things, health and fitness technology companies such as San Francisco-based Fitbit have established a new product for exercise lovers: the wearable. But do fitness trackers such as Fitbit actually promote a healthier lifestyle, or are they just a fashion statement? A new study suggests that reality may lie closer to the latter, and that technology alone is not enough to engender real change on an individual level.

Self-Reporting vs. Wearable Tracker

Given the booming popularity of wearables, it’s not surprising that scientists have already jumped at the chance to study their effects and impact on society. The most major study yet, which was just released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, took an interesting approach to the question of these fitness trackers’ effectiveness.

The study divided 470 people into two groups: one which was told to diet and exercise while manually recording their efforts and progress; and one in which the participants were given wearable trackers to automatically record their workouts.

The results? Both groups lost weight! However, the group that lost more weight was… you guessed it, the self-reporters.

Why Did The Wearable Group Lose Less Weight?

Anytime we conduct a scientific study or analysis, we have to be careful not to draw conclusions or inferences too quickly. Therefore, we don’t have a hard and fast reason why the group wearing fitness trackers lost less weight. However, with some careful insight, we can start to hypothesize.

Perhaps the wearable group, emboldened by the number of steps they were told they took in a day, felt like they were doing more actual exercise than they were. After all, walking is great for you, but it doesn’t necessarily result in the kind of cardiovascular activity that precipitates weight loss. Not to mention, exercise is only half the battle when it comes to weight loss: diet is equally important. Some observers felt that perhaps the wearables group felt good about their daily numbers, and mentally allowed themselves to cheat a bit at the dinner table.

Other hypotheses include the idea that, if you have a day where you see you haven’t done much exercise at all, you might simply get discouraged and stop trying as hard. Or perhaps the novelty simply wears off, and wearable owners simply stop bothering to put on their tracker each day.

Dr. Momjian’s Take

Each week, Urgent 9 founder Dr. Manuel Momjian will personally weigh in on the topics covered by the blog.

momjianI am not convinced that Fitbit will stand the test of time. This seems more like hype than a breakthrough. In medicine, there is a very limited utility in continuous monitoring of vital signs for the general population. The exception is when we have very sick patients in the intensive care unit. Subtle changes in blood pressure and pulse for these sick patients can mean life or death.

Continuous monitoring of a healthy population currently will only succeed in making some anxious people much more nervous. Maybe when medical knowledge advances and we discover true utility in this type of data, we might have a breakthrough. But for now, wearable devices are more of a tech fashion statement.

– Dr. Manuel Momjian, Urgent 9 Founder

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